10/07/2005 - Analysis
"Are you in favour of the treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe, signed in Rome on 29th October 2004?" this is the question that Luxembourg citizens will answer by referendum on 10th July next. The popular consultation will take place just ten days after the end of the presidency of the European Union undertaken by the Grand Duchy since January 1st.
Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker (Social Christian Party, PCS/CVS) decided at an early date to call upon Luxembourg citizens to ratify the treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe. "Luxembourg attaches such importance to the future European Constitution that its government has decided to submit its ratification to a national referendum," he declared 27th June 2003. "The referendum is not a play thing for the demagogues and populists. It is an instrument that at crucial moments in time, provides a sovereign dimension in communicating with the population," he also maintained in his speech on the State of the Nation in 2003. As for other elections it will be obligatory to vote in this referendum. The election is a consultative one but the government has declared that it would accept the popular verdict.
The Chamber of Luxembourg Representatives will vote a first time before the referendum on the Constitution that it is due to approve by a wide majority. Representatives will vote a second time after the referendum, since article 59 of the Luxembourg Constitution stipulates that an obligatory three month period must elapse between two votes taken by the Chamber.
Four of the five political parties represented in the Chamber of Representatives, the only Chamber in Parliament, are in favour of the European Constitution. These are the Social Christian Party (PCS/CVS), Socialist Worker's Party (POSL/LSAP), Democratic Party (PD/DP) and Dei Greng-The Greens (G). However Action for Democracy and Justice for Pensions (ADR), who initially were in favour of the text welcomed the French NO on 29th May. ADR was created in 1987 as an action committee for pensions fighting for the end of differences in terms of pension regimes in the private and state sectors and claims to be the "spokesperson for Luxembourg citizens against State dysfunctions and social injustice."
The Communist Party (PCL/KPL), chaired by Aly Rickert, and Dei Lenk- The Left (DL), parties that do not have any representative in the Chamber of Representatives, are also against the European Constitution.
The Luxembourg population has always supported the European cause. "Luxembourg interests have always been European," emphasised the Prime Minister who repeats that without Europe Luxembourg would be "like a fish out of water." "If we do not have the Constitution on 1st January 2007 there is great danger that this complex reality that comprises the European continent will be governed by a system of free exchange that is far too simplistic for this complicated continent," declared Jean-Claude Juncker on 6th April last. "I warn those who with simplistic arguments, that are often false and untrue, give the impression that the new Constitution would mean a step back for Europe," he added, asking supporters of the NO vote to "think carefully about the international repercussions of the road they were taking."
The NO vote that was in the total minority just a few months ago (less than 25%) has indeed increased in the Grand Duchy (more than 11 points in a month), rising to 32% versus 46% for the YES according to a poll undertaken by Ilres. Two Luxembourg citizens in ten (22%) still have not taken a decision. Two thirds of the Luxembourg population (65%) says they are "little" or "not at all informed" about the European Constitution. The inhabitants of the Grand Duchy are however amongst the most informed about the treaty. Hence more than half of them know (57%) that the Constitution provides the European Union with a Foreign Affairs Minister, 40% also know that one million citizens can ask the Commission to submit a legislative proposal on a given subject and that even the president of the European Council is not elected by the citizens. The Managing Director of Ilres, Charles Margue notes however that more the voters say they are informed about the text the more they are against it.
Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker has said "that he is very much aware of the fears expressed by the voters and of the rise in support for the NO vote." The refusal of accession by Turkey and the fear of a drift by Europe towards ultra-liberalism comprise the two main reasons why Luxembourg citizens are about to vote NO. Opposition to the government of Jean Claude Juncker, the longest ruling European leader still in power (the Prime Minister has been head of State since 1995 and member of the government team since 1982) also feature amongst the reasons given by those opposed to the treaty. "Recent polls do not surprise me. People are voting on the Constitutional text but on the present state of the Union where many things such as unemployment, enlargement, the rate of the euro are unpopular," commented Jean-Claude Juncker, adding that he had always "forecast that the YES vote could not be taken for granted."
"I shall invest all of my energy and determination into getting the YES vote through in Luxembourg. I shall commit myself passionately to the YES and reveal the populists," declared the Prime Minister who incidentally put his political career on the line on 3rd June by declaring that in this referendum he would resign if the NO vote won. "It is a question of basic decency vis-à-vis the Luxembourg voters. If the NO vote wins it is not up to the people to go but it is my duty to leave," he maintained during a press conference. Alex Bodry, president of the Socialist Workers' Party also announced that his party would leave the government coalition if the electorate rejected the European Constitution.
Mid-May each Luxembourg household received a document in the country's three languages (French, German, Luxembourg) explaining the 448 articles of the European treaty. In addition to this the Chamber of Representatives has, on four occasions, opened its doors to citizens, offering all of those who wished to do so the opportunity to express their opinion on the European Constitution publicly from the rostrum. Finally there was an exceptional event on 24th December last during the Christmas Greetings Ceremony; the Grand Duke Henry of Luxembourg announced that he would take part in the referendum on the European Constitution. This is a first in the Grand Duchy's history where members of the Luxembourg family usually exclude themselves from the country's political life. In Spain King Juan Carlos also showed the way by voting on 20th February last during the referendum on the European Constitution. Like the Grand Duke of Luxembourg the King of Spain never votes, for neutrality's sake, but he has however taken part in the four referenda organised in Spain.
Before 10th July the Luxembourg Prime Minister will also have to undertake another difficult task: chair the next European Council that will take place on 16th and 17th June in Brussels. The 25 will review the situation and future of the ratification of the European Constitution in the various Member States (ten countries have already ratified the text, two have rejected it by referendum) and will have to come to an agreement on the future European budget for the years 2007-2013. "An agreement on the budget will prove that Europe is still working," declared Jean-Claude Juncker on 6th June next. "It is the leaders of Europe who should show that they are able to decide," he added. The Luxembourg Prime Minister will therefore be particularly busy over the next few days that will be capital for the Grand Duchy and the European Union.